Upton Sinclair
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: About Josh, HiLo Heroes, Radium Age SF, Utopia

In 1906, UPTON SINCLAIR (1878-1968) published The Jungle, a bestselling fictional exposé that used Chicago’s meatpacking industry as a stage upon which to dramatize the suffering visited upon laborers by unregulated capitalism. Though Congress swiftly passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, Sinclair’s twenty-fourth novel had zero effect upon its intended target. (“So long as we have wage slavery,” laments one character, “it matters not in the least how debasing and repulsive a task may be, it is easy to find people to perform it.”) Sinclair, who griped that “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” used his new wealth to establish a utopian colony (Helicon) in Englewood, N.J, before going on to churn out sixty-five more titles in various genres. It must be acknowledged that Sinclair was a mediocre novelist. We’ve included him in our pantheon because he participated in two Argonaut Follies: Helicon, which soon burned down; and the Forte Circle (1910-15), an international cabal of activist intellectuals — including Martin Buber and Gustav Landauer — who attempted to prevent WWI. However, certain of his books are worth the effort: The Brass Check (1919), a still-pertinent criticism of “objective” journalism; The Millennium (1924), a Radium Age sci-fi play; Oil! (1927), the novel on which Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was loosely based; and Boston (1928), a “documentary novel” about Sacco and Vanzetti. Co-Op (1936), a “novel of living together,” also sounds promising.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jay Ward and Stevie Smith.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut generation (1874-83).


In 2012–2013, HiLoBooks serialized and republished (in gorgeous paperback editions, with new Introductions) 10 forgotten Radium Age science fiction classics! For more info: HiLoBooks.

MORE RADIUM AGE SCI FI ON HILOBROW: HiLoBooks homepage! | What is Radium Age science fiction? |Radium Age 100: 100 Best Science Fiction Novels from 1904–33 | Radium Age 100: the series | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | Radium Age: Context series | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Hugo Gernsback | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Cicely Hamilton | Hermann Hesse | William Hope Hodgson | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Murray Leinster | Gustave Le Rouge | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin



Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011); and he is co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.